Inspired by real events, Mandla Dube’s Netflix film, “Silverton Siege,” constantly asks the question, “What is the price of freedom?” The answer is simple yet extremely difficult to understand because those who haven’t been robbed of their freedom may never be able to understand what slavery or injustice feels like.
Dube’s film could have been yet another story about the freedom struggle, but it isn’t. There are some narratively balanced scenes in the entire film that make it stand out from the lot. At one point, the protagonist, Calvin Khumalo, shares a quote by Nelson Mandela with a white woman without revealing Mandela’s name, and ironically, the woman finds those words quite wise. However, as soon as Calvin reveals who said those wise words, the woman’s expression changes, and why not? With the name, you have got a face, a nationality, and the color of his skin. Even in the twenty-first century, we still wish for a world in which a person is not judged (or, more accurately, “evaluated”) solely on the basis of his cast, creed, color or sex. But that world is still more or less a fiction.
“Silverton Siege” is the real story of Silverton Trio, Wilfred Mandela, Humphrey Makhhubu, and Stephen Mafoko, along with George Molebatsi, who accidently sparked the “Free Nelson Mandela Movement” in 1980 (as according to the film, and as per the real events, the movement began in the late 1970s). Director Mandla Dube’s film was inspired from their real-life struggle and an incident that sparked the revolution, yet Dube has taken some cinematic liberties to keep the film totally commercial. The names of the revolutionaries have been changed as well, and some characters have been written for dramatic purposes, but the feelings and emotions that move an individual remain as real as possible.
Major Spoilers Ahead
‘Silverton Siege’ Plot Summary
Calvin Khumalo (Thabo Rametsi) is a freedom fighter, born in Mabopane, who grew up in apartheid South Africa. His family home was a safe house in Mabopane, and thus, in his childhood, he would often witness strangers arriving and leaving the roof. During his childhood, the police gunned down Calvin’s parents in front of him, after which he decided to avenge their deaths. On June 16, 1976, a group of students in Soweto “peacefully” protesting against their government to introduce the Afrikaans language in schools dealt with police brutality, and 100s of students were killed on the spot (the exact number of deaths never came out). In the uprising of June 12, 1976, Calvin and his comrades lost many of their friends. Those who revolted against the government were either exiled or imprisoned, and thus many youths like Calvin joined the liberation movement to put an end to the oppressive white regime by any means possible, even if it meant resorting to violence.
The “Silverton Siege” begins on January 24, 1980, when Calvin and his friends burn down the Rooiwal Power Plant in Silverton, Pretoria. They have their orders from the high command to sabotage strategic key points in the capital without any civilian casualties. Their plan is to cut the supplies to make the country ungovernable, thereby forcing the current regime to surrender. On January 25, they plan to plant the explosives in the Seahorse oil depot and burn down as many fuel tanks as possible.
Calvin and his three comrades, Mbali Terra Mabunda, Aldo Erasmus, and Masego, keep an eye on the Seahorse oil depot while waiting for a truck driver who will assist them in entering the barricaded depot. But soon, Calvin spots an African woman smoking in public, and quickly smells a conspiracy and asks his comrades to start the vehicle and quickly leave the premises. Suddenly, Captain Johan Langerman and his partner, Schoeman, come out of their hiding and start following Calvin’s van. In a violent chase, Calvin loses one of his comrades, named Masego, and while running from the police, they take shelter in a South African bank named Volkskas. At gunpoint, Calvin, Terra, and Aldo take hostages and plan a way out, while in the meantime, they try to discover who snitched about them and revealed their plan to Captain Langerman, which was why he was already waiting for them at the Seahorse oil depot.
“Silverton Siege” further explores Calvin’s intense negotiations with Captain Langerman, as Calvin finally realizes that there is no way out, but if he has to sacrifice his life, then why not make it worth the effort? From an African American hostage named Cornelius Washington, Calvin gets the idea of giving their voice to the freedom of Nelson Mandela, and thus, without any further ado, Calvin and his comrades demand the impossible. But will their demands be met? And who was the snitch in their circle?
Who Was The Snitch?
It was Aldo Erasmus, Calvin’s close friend and comrade, who sold them out to Captain Langerman, and he had his own personal reasons for betraying his friends and the movement. Aldo’s wife, Khensani, was pregnant, and Langerman probably lied to Aldo about protecting his wife and unborn child, in return for the information. It was easy for Langerman to buy Aldo’s loyalty because he was emotionally vulnerable and needed protection for his family. However, it wasn’t revealed at the end of “Silverton Siege” whether Langerman would keep his promise or not, especially after Aldo’s death.
When Langerman entered the bank to take a look at the hostages, Terra curiously asked him his name. Terra inquired whether his name was Langerman or not, and as soon as Langerman confirmed his identity, Calvin asked Terra about how she knew the name of the captain when he never told anybody on the team. At this moment, Terra revealed that she heard the name from Aldo as soon as they entered the bank, which only points out one possibility: that it was Aldo who sold them out, and without wasting any moment, Terra shot Aldo and killed him on the spot.
‘Silverton Siege’ Ending Explained: What Happened To Calvin & Terra?
There is no face to tyranny, nor any color or flag attached to it. It is the men and their ideologies that promote hatred among men, and in the “Silverton Siege,” the Brigadier was the exact personification of that hatred. He was ready to go to any lengths to protect the dictatorial agenda of his government, and so he acted upon it.
Christine, the daughter of the Justice Minister, was one of the hostages inside the bank, which was why the officers tried to negotiate with Calvin and his crew. They weren’t bothered about any other hostages except Christine, and probably because of her, they didn’t send the SWAT team inside the bank. The Brigadier’s hands were tied too, which was why he cunningly planned the murder of Christine when she came out of the door to support Calvin’s cause and demanded the release of Nelson Mandela. Christine was raised by an African woman after her mother’s death and has witnessed the blood on her father’s hand, who killed an innocent African man. After Christine’s death, the Brigadier and his SWAT team had nothing to hold them back from raiding the bank, which Langerman understood and personally requested Calvin to release the hostages to avoid any casualties, but before he could ask Calvin to surrender, Calvin cut off the call.
Langerman believed that Calvin was a good man and indeed not a terrorist, but neither his government nor Brigadier would have been able to understand what Calvin was fighting for, and there was nothing Langerman could do to help him. Like Calvin, even Langerman understood the price of freedom in the end, which was “everything.” Calvin was ready to sacrifice his life for the movement so that generations to come would live in freedom and wouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their skin color. Even till the very end, Calvin followed his orders, which was to have no civilian casualties, and thus, when he could foresee his end coming near, he decided to release the hostage so that no one else would have to bear the weight of his decisions.
When Calvin freed the hostages, the SWAT team stormed inside the bank and began shooting at the two individuals whose fight for freedom shook the entire nation. They shot Calvin and Terra to death, but they weren’t able to stop the movement that they were fighting for. Calvin and Terra died that day, but their revolution lived on and sparked a national movement that finally became the Free Nelson Mandela Campaign. Mandela was later released on February 11, 1990.
“Silverton Siege” is a 2022 historical drama film directed by Mandla Dube.